Do you ever get the impression that your partner is closing themselves off from you? That you want to get closer to them, but they try to avoid it? Or do you receive this feedback on your behavior from others? Are they telling you that you show a lack of interest? Or that you’re not there for them when they need you? Perhaps you or your partner are trying to avoid intimacy. And you may not even realize it.
How is it possible for a person to avoid closeness?
Avoiding intimacy essentially means that a person is disconnecting from the emotions they’re experiencing. This way of functioning often has roots in childhood, when parents behave towards their child in a certain way, which I will discuss further on, and the child learns that it’s better not to express their emotions outwardly. They may even learn that it’s best not to have emotions at all. This seems normal to them (and it is normal), and they naturally bring this way of functioning into adulthood.
How do parents behave towards “avoidant” children?
A child learns not to express emotions or even to experience them to protect themselves from anxiety. Anxiety in this context often arises from seeing the parent in a negative light. This can happen in the case of parents who respond inadequately to a child’s needs and have a tendency to not accept their weaknesses. When the child expresses that they are angry, sad, or upset, parents may respond with incomprehension, blame, or evoke feelings of shame in the child. For example, imagine a defiant three-year-old boy in a store who starts crying and throwing himself on the ground because his parents won’t buy him a toy car. Such behavior is common for children his age. A parent can react by calmly explaining to the son why they won’t buy him the car, reassuring him that they love him, and repeating this until the child calms down. However, a parent can also start screaming at the child and demand that he stop behaving that way, behave properly, or add a humiliating sentence such as “boys don’t cry” and the promise of punishment, which can contribute to the development of avoidant behavior.
Avoidance behavior is also common in children whose parents are stressed, fragile, overreact to the child’s needs and expressions, and the child is afraid of hurting them with their emotions and stress. Therefore, the child learns to hide their emotions from them.
How do “avoidant” adults behave?
Inability to get closer to others is not immediately visible in a person. “Avoidant” people often have many friends, are perceived as charismatic and popular, and are often ambitious, hardworking, successful in school, career, or sports. At first glance, it may seem like they have an easy life, but paradoxically, they may feel socially isolated because they cannot share their goals with others. If they feel comfortable or neutral, you may feel close enough to them for a while. However, if you try to get closer, it represents vulnerability and a greater likelihood of experiencing negative emotions that they do not want to experience, so they will deny or downplay them. They express this, for example, with the sentence, “I don’t care what you think/say.” Since they do not know their own emotions well, they also have difficulty recognizing emotions in others. This is often the reason why they do not realize and perceive any emotional distance and unavailability in a relationship, which their partner may be telling them about.
What can I do if I don’t want to continue avoiding closeness with myself?
In case you have come to the conclusion that you may have a tendency to avoid experiencing negative emotions and getting closer to your partner and you are not satisfied with this, and you would like it to be different, you can try the following:
-Try to read the emotions of others. Practice reading the emotions of family members, friends, or someone you trust. Check with them to see if you perceive their emotions correctly, for example, with phrases like “Are you angry/disappointed/frustrated/happy/joyful?” “It seems to me that you are sad. Is that right?” “Are you afraid?” and so on.
-Try to face your own negative emotions. When someone expresses negative emotions towards you, try not to run away from the situation, endure and listen without verbally attacking them. Try to remain open and express understanding of what they are telling you, even though it may be unnatural and uncomfortable for you at first.
-Learn to identify, name, and express your emotions. Instead of describing what you think, try to learn to say what you feel. For example, instead of automatically saying “It’s fine,” identify your experience by saying “Right now, I have a lot of energy and I’m in a cheerful mood.”
-Realize the impact of your behavior on others. A calm emotional expression and a rational approach to relationship issues, which people who avoid intimacy tend to have, may give others the impression that you don’t care about them and that you are rejecting them. Partners will likely demand more attention from you and not give you as much space as you need.
-Success and career or interpersonal relationships? Know that you can be accepted, respected, and loved without achieving great success.
What can I do to get closer to an “avoidant” partner?
-Try to understand your partner’s closed-off nature and don’t take it personally. They use it to protect themselves from anxiety related to emotional experiences.
-Be (very) patient. If your partner backs off or responds too rationally in a conversation where they may come into contact with strong and painful emotions, let them leave and try to have the conversation another time.
-Give your partner space to escape. Avoidant people need space. Chasing and pressuring them will probably only make them run faster. Try giving your partner a chance to feel that they are missed.
-Realistically evaluate your need for intimacy. If you need to feel a lot of closeness and intimacy in a relationship, your avoidant partner may not be able to fulfill this need adequately.
-Provide an “emotional mirror” for your partner. Gradually and sensitively try to communicate to your partner what you think they feel and experience, and explain to them why you think that. This will help them gain more self-awareness.
We can view complications in life as opportunities for growth and learning something new. When they appear, we seek solutions, ways to change the situation for the better, we become active and learn. We can approach our personality traits with which we are not so satisfied in a similar way. If we become aware of them, admit them, and name them, we can work with them further and slowly change our experiences over time.